If you’re a designer, you’re likely familiar with, what can be, an uphill struggle to communicate to non-designers the effectiveness of the designs you produce. More importantly, it can be a real struggle to get these non-designers, these stakeholders, to trust your expertise on something that is subjective. I myself have experienced this in every job I’ve had, and it often involved one, if not all of the following: lots of time wasted, feelings hurt, projects condemned to the depths of Nowheresville, dissatisfaction with my career, a lack of trust for the design departments, and a deep seated mistrust on the part of designers for stakeholders.
In so many meetings, I’ve watched these horrors all unfold, but I didn’t know what to do in those moments. I understood that we, the designers, were seen as arrogant know-it-alls, and that the stakeholders involved seemed often blindly unaware of the importance of what we were trying to convey to them. Why was communication so hard? Where was the disconnect? Why didn’t anyone trust each other?
I vowed that when I started my business, this would be my number one highest priority: my unique selling point. I would be a designer, who above all else, excelled in communication with her clients. I started looking online for anything that would help me figure out why the designer / client relationship could be so tense, and what I could do to avoid it. Enter, Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever.
In his book, Articulating Design Decisions, Tom delves into exactly this area: how to communicate design decisions to stakeholders in order to create understanding, trust, great design, and create a successful product. He says that early in his career he realized, “I had to take into consideration the needs of my audience. My designs had to do something for the client. They had to solve a problem. And if I couldn’t communicate that, I was bound to be wrong again. For me to be successful as a designer, I had to figure out how to communicate to my clients what my designs did. I had to answer their questions in a way that made sense to them, not me. I had to express to them the rationale behind a design using words that would appeal to them and meet their needs. If I could do that, I thought, I would be successful.”
I can’t say enough good things about Tom’s book. I value it much more than the small acknowledgment I give it here, and I recommend it to every designer, despite it being primarily about User Experience or User Interface Design. What I love, most of all, is that while he recognizes the misunderstandings by stakeholders, he also recognizes that it’s often because of something we, the designers, have not communicated well. As someone who really values compromise, and seeing two sides of an argument, I couldn’t have appreciated his approach more.
There are so many pearls (treasure troves!) of wisdom in his book, and even a chapter for stakeholders looking to be more design-integrated in their own businesses. So much of the book is actionable, and his real world examples are great to read. Besides, I found the book to be very readable, and quite funny occasionally. I would go so far as to say it should be required reading for design students. If you don’t have the time right now, check out this video: sort of the Spark Notes of the book. Let’s set aside our frustration (and egos), and see if we can’t delve inward a little bit in order to further our great designs.
What I’d like to leave you with are some quick bullet points for Tom’s IDEAL Response approach that might help with your own communication style. These are my notes, with a based-in-reality example I’ve experienced. Honestly, I believe this style of communication would help in multiple professions.
Send me a comment if you’ve read the book as well, and what take-aways you’ve found to be helpful.